Can We Eat Meat and Still Be Eco-Friendly?
We know that efforts to support sustainability and environmental friendliness should not only be at the individual level, but rise to the level that enterprises and governments should enact. However, there are instances when the very idea of individual responsibility is actually from the industries that harm the environment!
Photo source: Vladimír Sládek from Pexels
A big example is the oil giant, British Petroleum, which is the organization that promoted the idea of a carbon footprint. Their likely reason? To shift responsibility on to customers, instead of finding ways to change how their industry uses resources.
Of course, there will always be a persistent need for us to wonder what we can do at an individual level. Given that there is pushback and greenwashing from industries, and lack of gatekeeping from governments, it’s going to be individual action that moves mountains (of trash).
Meat’s Environmental Impact
If there’s one easy way to practice individual responsibility, it is with meat consumption.
Yes, even if you are a meat lover, lessening consumption can do a whole lot for the environment. Up to 23% of the total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) come from agriculture and forestry-related land use. Among these agri-practices, livestock industry is a major contributor to climate change as it generates about 12% to 18% of total GHG emissions.
But beef consumption and other popular livestock has ticked up over the past few years, in spite of all the findings about its impact. There are also some contradicting data. According to the EPA, for instance, methane released from cattle refuse is only 4% of U.S. GHGs. Of course, methane is only one type of GHG, but some findings point to a smaller impact that meat agriculture actually has.
Overall, meat may not be totally eliminated as a go-to food across the world, but it should be known that it is a major carbon and methane contributor.
The impact even goes beyond livestock production.
One research found that meat prepared for meals but thrown away (food waste) generate higher GHG emission estimates than plant-based fare. The measurement spans cradle to processing to the landfill. This shows that meat products use more fertilizer, vehicle transport, water, and utility use.
Therefore, if meat ends up as food waste, it’s essentially a bigger waste than if plant—based options end up being thrown away.
Can We Eat Meat and Still Be Eco-Friendly?
Although meat is an important source of nutrients, and arguably tastes really good, it’s evident that it is one of the least eco-friendly options for food. Meat production demands a lot of resources. And when meat gets thrown away, GHG emissions are still in effect in landfills. Agri livestock plays a big role in climate change.
Changing the way we eat meat, and amplifying that to our families, our communities, and cultures can pave the way for less waste and negative impact on the environment.
Here are some ways to eat meat and still be eco-friendly:
- Reduce Meat As Much As You Can
Reducing the amount of meat you can eat may not sound too helpful, but it actually is! And the good thing about this is that anyone can do it, even families who are highly carnivorous.
Cutting meat to only two days per week can lower greenhouse gas impact by over 70%. That’s huge. Getting into the whole “Meat Free Mondays” routine can get you started.
Meanwhile, if you don’t want to feel too restrictive, try cutting the meat portion size into smaller ones. If you have to have meat as your main meal, cutting the size by half, or roughly about 100 grams per day, can cut your GHG by over 14%.
This won’t be as effective as going full-vegan or vegetarian, but these are still real numbers that lessen our diet’s footprint.
- Can’t Go Vegan? Try Flexitarian
A flexitarian is a person who primarily eats vegetarian or vegan diet but will occasionally eat meat and fish. There’s more options for a flexitarian because you wouldn’t be forced to entirely cut out meat and fish in your diet. But the trick is to always try to prioritize getting your protein and micronutrients from plant-based meals instead of animal products.
Flexitarian diet could reduce your carbon footprint as you’re eating way less meat than the average American diet recommended amount.
- Choose Chicken Over Beef, Lamb, or Pork
Being a sustainable meat eater means choosing the least impactful option. Beef, lamb, and pork generate higher environmental impact per kilogram than other options, like chicken and fish. Although with fish, you have to take into account that there are microplastics found in marine life, which you’ll inevitably ingest when you consume fish and seafood.
As chicken converts feed into protein more efficiently, requires smaller agriculture land, fertilizer, and energy in raising them, replacing beef with chicken lets you lessen the environmental impact by half.
- Choose Ethically-Raised Meat
If you can’t really go a year, or a month, or a week without meat, choosing meat can also help diminish the impact. Meat options that are grass-fed, or fed on local crops can reduce the shipping and fertilizer footprint that imported, factory-raised livestock will have.
Allowing cows to either be pasture-raised (livestock can forage naturally) or grass-fed (livestock is contained but allowed to eat grass) enables the farmers to forego grains as feed. Grains do not provide much nutrients for cows, and are usually shipped to the farm. If you have access, it’s much better to promote local farmers who are able to raise grass-fed or pasture-fed livestock.
- Plan to Prevent Food Waste at Home
As what we’ve mentioned, food waste made of meats generally have a bigger negative impact than plant-based food. So, it’s important not only to cut back on eating meat, but also making sure you don’t waste any of it if you do consume it.
A few simple tips to reduce food waste include: planning your meals before going to the grocery (to shop only what’s needed), storing produce and meats properly so they don’t go bad before they are supposed to, and just learning from your weekly routine how much should be prepared. For more info about food waste, read our article here.
There are a number of ways you can keep eating meat and still be eco-friendly than a full-on carnivore. Simply reducing meat consumption, choosing chicken over beef, lamb, and pork, and just being more mindful of food waste in your kitchen can already lessen your footprint. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to being more sustainable. And eating less meat is one eco-friendly individual action that can easily be done.